“How do you like the chocolate mousse?” the server asks. I look up, a bit startled. My mind had been wandering, considering my afternoon schedule after lunch, but now it returns to the half-eaten dessert before me.
“It’s pretty good,” I respond.
“It’s avocados,” he says with a big smile. “Well, mostly avocados, with some dates and agave nectar mixed in.”
I look again at the parfait glass filled with dark brown confection and fresh fruit. He’s right, of course. It doesn’t taste like real chocolate mousse. But it’s in the ballpark, and it does taste quite good.
“It’s the healthiest 'chocolate mousse’ you’ll ever eat,” he says.
I’ve never been a devotee of organic food. Sure, I prefer my vegetables not bathed in pesticides and my meat not filled with growth hormones just as much as the next guy.
But when you make a living by eating at a different restaurant nearly every day, you can’t be too restrictive.
Fortunately, that’s not a problem at I Am the Center, which opened between downtown Tempe’s Mill Avenue and the Arizona State University campus in September.
Created by former Scottsdale modeling agency owner Robert Black and former corporate attorney Austin Vickers, The Center is a three-story holistic lifestyle complex that includes a yoga studio, practitioner offices and a store.
Best of all, though, there’s an organic bistro with a small but airy dining room, bathed in sunlight from three walls of windows. Music by Enya and Sade softly echoes off the high ceiling.
The menu is small: seven appetizers, five sandwiches and five salads. But the lineup was created by Damon Brasch (Green, That’s a Wrap), one the Valley’s foremost chefs at making food that’s natural and healthy and also tastes great.
Sometimes this involves simple substitutions. An appetizer of “raw” hummus ($6), for example, is made with cauliflower instead of chickpeas and comes with a pesto of arugula and other power greens.
In other dishes, it’s the quality of organic ingredients. One of the menu’s stars: smoked wild Alaskan salmon ($10), served on fresh-baked flatbread with white cheddar, caramelized shallots and a cilantro crème fraiche.
Gourmet sandwiches ($10-$12) are made with free-range chicken, turkey and beef on a choice of sprouted-grain bun, tortilla or flatbread. My favorite is the turkey, which comes with hemp-nut mayo, spiced apple and cranberry chutney, and vegan cream cheese.
Chicken, salmon or tofu can also be added to any of the salads, such as the Asian peanut salad ($10) made with organic greens, julienne carrots, green onions and peanuts with a peanut-ginger glaze and honey-mango vinaigrette.
Beverage choices include flavorful organic juice blends ($6) — such as the “Oneness,” with apple, carrot, orange and parsley — and delicious smoothies ($6) made with soy and coconut milk and fresh fruit.
In this age of constant admonition from nutritional experts that almost everything we like to eat is unhealthy, it’s comforting to discover — at least in the case of I Am the Center — good-tasting food can also be good for you.
I Am the Center Café & Bistro
Where: 21 E. Sixth St., Tempe (just east of Mill Avenue)
Open: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday
Prices: Appetizers $3-$10, sandwiches $10-$12, salads $9-$12, desserts $6
Information: (480) 491-5591 or